There are lessons for those of every age in the Asolo Rep's The Giver.
By Kay Kipling
The Giver, adapted from the Newbery Award-winning book by Lois Lowry, is an Asolo Rep production that’s part of its “New Stages” initiative, bringing fully staged theatrical productions to area students, especially those of upper elementary and middle school age. But you don’t have to be a student, a teacher, or even a parent to see and appreciate the production, now onstage at the Historic Asolo Theater.
You don’t have to have read the book, either, but those who have will feel a special interest in entering the world of young Jonas (Kevin O’Callaghan, like other cast members an FSU/Asolo Conservatory student) and his family and friends. In Jonas’ world, the color palette is white, gray, neutral; no bright colors enrich the soul. Nor are there any unpleasant experiences; his society has eliminated them through a careful regimen of schooling, medication and lifelong conformity.
Here, at the age of 12, children enter the adult world and begin the jobs they have been selected to perform. In Jonas’ case, that’s a rare opportunity, for he is picked to train with—and eventually replace—The Giver (Brent Bateman), who has been responsible for keeping in his mind all the memories of the past the other community members no longer have. In his transplanting those memories to Jonas, we see how wonderful it is for Jonas to experience for the first time the thrill of snow, the excitement of color. But there are hard, painful memories, too—memories of war, poverty and starvation—plus an especially harsh reality to face about how his society deals with its misfits and no longer productive members.
Brent Bateman and Kevin O’Callaghan in the Asolo Rep’s The Giver.
At 70 minutes with no intermission, The Giver wraps all this into one compelling package, complete with some lighting and stage effects that help successfully transport us on Jonas’ journey. The cast, under the capable direction of KJ Sanchez, is energetic and believable, whether playing adults or children, throughout the show. But the best moments, come, as they should, when Jonas and the Giver are alone together, confronting the lessons to be learned. “It’s the choosing that’s important,” the Giver says at one point to his student, underscoring the piece’s message with that simple, always timely truth. And The Giver is a good choice for this new educational/theatrical program.
Public performances continue through Nov. 8; call 351-8000 or go to asolo.org.